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Climate Change

by T. Peterson, Ph.D.
(the following text excerpt is taken from:
The Creator's Window -Viewing Global Change,
Universal timelines, & The Promise, © 2000)

Climate Change Topics

Many scientists say time is growing short. You do not escape this reality by ignorance. Everyone must pause to seriously consider the nature and magnitude of recent or imminent climate changes. This change is something to which you are a part! Your daily activity defines a personal connection to this problem!


I am emotionally moved as I watch conservative members of science speak passionately about change. The facts make their voices quiver. Humans now live in a most unusual time. For the present, I ask you to examine the vista of change in our physical world. Let us briefly examine present day change in relation to the Earth’s climate. Later on, many of these topics reappear and contribute to another aspect of the window’s concluding panoramic historical view.

• Greenhouse Effect

When sunlight enters the atmosphere, solar energy hitting Earth is either absorbed or reflected. Some atmospheric gases—called greenhouse gases—absorb reflected energy (trapped as heat) that would otherwise escape to outer space. The process works like panes of glass that trap heat within the enclosure of a greenhouse. In this age of information, the public readily associates increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration with global warming. Combustion of wood and fossil fuels—coal, oil, or natural gas—for industry, transportation, electricity, heat, etc., creates the CO2 that is a major force altering the world’s atmospheric composition (see Figure 1). The projected result of this change is demonstrated by computer models of the enhanced greenhouse effect that anticipate a significant net increase in the average global temperature, from 1.5 to 4.5°C, by the year 2050.

Many in the present generation will live to see consequences ascribed to global warming. For example, little change in CO2 levels occurred prior to the industrial revolution, but present change is dramatic, with a 30% increase from 1850 to 1980. Figure 1 illustrates there is an unmistakable steady upward trend ('Average’ Value). Remarkably this process has a momentum of its own and CO2 levels continued to increase even when fossil fuel use was curtailed in the 80s (compare Figures 1 & 4). Conceivably, fires related to deforestation and processes other than fossil fuel use also contribute to CO2 rise. Here, human activity causes global change due to one specific factor. Atmospheric methane also acts as a highly efficient greenhouse gas by trapping 25% of the atmosphere’s heat energy. Sources for this gas include termites, cows, wetlands, garbage dumps, and industrial operations. Overall, the longer extra CO2 resides in the atmosphere the more heat is gained by Earth. The increased CO2 represents a driving force because, over time, the greenhouse effect alters weather patterns, rainfall distribution, growing seasons, and threatens to melt glaciers and polar ice caps—resulting in sea level rise and other shocks to the environment and Earth’s inhabitants.

carbon dioxide

Figure 1: Global Carbon Dioxide Concentration. Seasonal measurements, made at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory, vary throughout the year as represented by the short segment labeled 'Seasonal Variation’ (e.g. 1964 through 1966). The variation corresponds to absorption of carbon dioxide by plants during growing seasons and net increases during the remainder of the year. Overall, the global trend is a steady upward rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, which is represented by the line labeled 'Average’ Value.

At this point some statistics help to paint a larger picture. For example, the US. population represents only 4.5% of the world’s total, yet this one nation produces 25% of the global CO2 emissions. Each year, for every person in the US., over 13,227.6 pounds of CO2 are put in the atmosphere because of affluent life styles. Every time I turn on a light, start the car, touch the thermostat, I contribute to a global problem. Citizens of the world’s industrial countries use the most fossil fuel and produce the highest emissions of greenhouse gases. According to 1987 estimates, each year the world community liberates over 6 billion metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere (over 13,000,000,000,000 or—in scientific notation—1.3 x 1011 pounds).

The numbers only grow because consumption of fossil fuel and CO2 emissions rise further as other peoples—especially the multitudes in developing regions—strive to obtain the US. standard of living. Population growth means driving forces increase, not lessen, with time. Future global projections indicate an additional 75% increase in CO2 occurs as humanity approaches the middle of the next century, 50 to 60 years away. Earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels will be two-fold greater in 2050 compared to 1850. Undeniably humanity has changed conditions on Earth—and this doubling of CO2 appears within the brief span of several human life times—since the days when Mr. Thoreau wrote of his experience at Walden Pond.

• Ozone Depletion

Scientific journals and newspapers describe how chloro-fluro-carbon (CFC) compounds degrade the naturally occurring ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. There, ozone serves as a solar filter absorbing harmful ultraviolet light (UV). The scientific community was first alarmed by enlarging ozone holes over Antarctica and Australia, but now global concerns grow with evidence for holes appearing over the northern hemisphere.

Will this problem go away soon? One alarming possibility, a warning raised by concerned scientists, indicates present amounts of atmospheric CFCs are sufficient to degrade stratospheric ozone for the next 100 years (SXi 90). Simply banning use of CFCs does not end the immediate problem.

Without the ozone barrier humans face increased rates of eye damage, skin cancers, animal immune disorders, and damage to agricultural crops. The consequence of high UV exposure for all of Earth’s life forms, from the simplest marine life to human beings, is a topic scientists continue to explore. This theme resurfaces later, in Part Four, along with other environmental penalties humanity is destined to see—especially in light of the prospect that one day soon any exposure to the Sun may present a severe health risk.

• Air Pollution;

Atmospheric chemistry mirrors change through perplexing relationships. While ozone is lost to the upper atmosphere, human activity causes increased ozone production in the lower atmosphere. On the Earth’s surface, automobile and industrial pollutants cause formation of ozone, nitrous oxide, and hydrocarbons producing pollution called smog (smoke + fog). While beneficial up above, down below ozone is harmful to native plants and agricultural crops. This degrades natural ecosystems and reduces farm yields. City smog poses a hazard to human health and by its chemical activity damages architectural structures.

Less obvious are emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, released from power plant and industrial smoke stacks, that are the source of acid rain. This acid deposition has a long reach. Pollutants released to the atmosphere move with clouds producing rain which later falls on distant cities and forests. The acidity flushes nutrients from soils, diminishes or eliminates native fish and water fowl populations, and slowly weakens trees and plant life which eventually die from disease or soil infertility. And this is part of the global change I see near my summer home.

As coal and automobile use increases, the effects of acid rain spread over larger geographic areas. For example, increasing coal combustion to generate electricity for China’s expanding industrial base correspondingly produces more acid rain—and coincidentally dramatic increases in CO2 emissions, too. China has made an effort to use coal efficiently, but China’s immense work force needs electric power. Economically, alternate fuels are difficult to justify when China holds the world’s largest known coal deposits.

• Consequences of Climate Change

Models and data used to predict climate change differ—model to model, lab to lab—leading to general conclusions about the Earth’s future temperatures, light quality, and rainfall distribution. No one expects totally uniform change. Thus, global warming may manifest itself as generally warmer night temperatures in some places and extreme local cooling elsewhere. Change will appear in regional episodes—much like hurricane intensities that in the mid-90s rose to historic heights or as in 1993 when massive floods covered the US. Midwest and simultaneously drought dried the southeast. To our thinking, the severest, most graphic evidence for climate change appears after crops fail, when food prices fluctuate, and as live stock inventories dwindle. When does climate change become a personal reality? I can imagine your reaction if daily food expenses threaten to exceed one's daily wage. Is this possible? Yes—for this is one of a number of global circumstances documented in this book’s timeline conclusion.


Figure 2: Global Temperature Change. This plot of temperature over time represents a world-wide summary. Raw temperature data, collected on a regional basis, only indicates seasonal change in a single geographic area A net change in global surface temperature is shown here relative to a zero-base line. This model, among others, argues in favor of a net increase in global temperatures over recent time.

Not all change is negative. Loss of favorable conditions in one locality suggest improvement elsewhere. My concern lies in the pace of change. As indicated by Figure 2, real temperature change occurred during the 1900s. The expected alteration in global weather patterns may already contribute to expansion of deserts and deforestation. Elsewhere, rain-forest destruction in the Amazon brings drought to the affected area. In the balance, waste regions on the planet turning hospitable to vegetation take decades or centuries to form stable grasslands and forests. Humans can plant trees for reforestation, but thereafter must hope for success and prolonged stable climatic conditions. There is no quick fix for these global issues. The scientific community calls for measures to slow rates of change in hopes of reaching some new level of environmental stability. Critics of this approach recognize most humans fail to perceive a problem, day to day, and many affluent beings are unwilling to alter their life style to achieve these objectives.

How are you to understand seemingly imperceptible—year to year—climate changes? Figure 2 gives some clues. While the debate about global models rages on, I watch climate change follow a timeline. The graph describes the meandering nature of yearly average surface temperatures on Earth. Overall there is a net increase in temperature. From 1850 to the present, the change in temperature is a rise of approximately 0.8 °C. Walden Pond is a warmer place now than in Henry’s day. If the trend is upward, increased CO2 represents a catalyst for a dramatic increase in global temperature. At no previous time have humans lived with such high levels of CO2. If the Earth and atmosphere hit some unforeseen threshold for dramatic climate change, events that follow will be absolutely beyond human control.

I have only mentioned several aspects of climate change. Pollution, temperature, cloud patterns, acidity, quality of light, distribution of rain and related factors influence the quality of life on Earth. My appreciation for a larger process at work recognizes that human-driven change influences the world’s plant and animal life—especially where native habitats are altered beyond existence. Where does one live without their house? Where would humanity be without a habitable planet?

This is just one of many panes in the WindowView. This is a fraction of the process identified earlier within the section entitled 'Convergence.' Keep exploring the view, visit our page titled 'Experience WindowView' to see how global changes are part of a larger holistic paradigm which is the reason behind assembling this cyber-place. Putting the picture together helps to envision humanity's direction along the dimension of time.

A copy of this text with footnotes and a complete listing of references used in writing this text can be obtained by downloading the chapters and reference list for the Creator's Window. References that appear as ''(SXi #)'' signify the page number from Sigma Xi's publication related to a 1991 forum on global change (see reference list for the Creator's Window for a complete citation of this work).

The importance to global change is in looking at how social, biological, and physical sciences all reveal data and signs for more ominous changes in the near future. This is change in every aspect of human and earthly affairs ... globally. The Window looks further to see change as a backdrop to a biblical timeline. Driving forces for change force us to ask the most important questions about our true origin, who we are, why we are here, and what the Scriptures tell us about the future. Change forces us to look deeper to face choice or crisis. Life is an opportunity to look for the answers.

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